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Industry Spotlight: Finding the ‘perfect fit – the psychology of contact centre recruitment…

800 450 Jack Wynn

Brona Ratcliffe, head of contact centres HR at Domestic & General, oversees more than 900 employees at the company’s Nottingham-based contact centre. Domestic & General employs more than 2,500 employees in the UK and, last year alone, handled eight million calls, spending three billion hours on the phone.

Here, she explains how Domestic & General has adopted strengths-based recruitment to appoint the right talent for a successful contact centre environment.

Change can be difficult, do you agree?

A tough question, but this will likely face applicants during a job interview with Domestic & General as part of our streamlined strengths-based recruitment process. As a business, we recognised that although change can prove to be difficult, we wanted to re-evaluate the way we recruited talent to our contact centre team and remain at the forefront of the industry.

Filling vacant roles in a sector with a notoriously high employee turnover can certainly be challenging at times, and it is our duty as responsible employers to not only fill positions and ensure the business runs effectively, but that the candidates we recruit are the right people and will get as much out of it, both personally and professionally, as they put into the business.

Both financially and productively, the importance of hiring the right people the first time around is crucial. Research conducted in 2014 by Oxford Economics revealed that the costs of recruiting replacement members of staff to be as much as £30,614 per employee. The figure is based on the combined logistical costs of recruiting and absorbing a new worker, and the lost output a company experiences during the period of time the new worker is ‘settling in’.

The report unveiled that, on average, workers take 28 weeks to reach optimum productivity which has an attached cost of £25,181 per employee.

Over the past 18 months, we have been working with business psychologists Capp to implement a strengths-based recruitment process within our business structure. In short, this allows us to assess body language, scenarios and group work to nurture applicant success and help ensure the right people are filling our roles.

It almost goes without saying that in order to achieve a successful career in the industry; our employees need to have an abundance of core skills such as: strong customer focus, the ability to work under pressure and be highly agile and adaptable. These are the skills we look for in our candidates and what we need to identify as we undergo the recruitment process. We feel in order to have a successful business, our employees need to love what they do from the word go, and naturally be suited to the role with strengths already in place.

As a result, we no longer look closely at someone’s work history but are much more interested in their core skills and where they could best fit into our organisation, whether it is in our contact centre or in a more senior role – to benefit both parties.

The recruitment process is broadly divided into three key areas: the initial application, a telephone interview and the final assessment centre and there are three aspects we look for – strength, performance and energy. Key assessment signals might include whether applicants are using passionate language; what their body language is doing; and whether they are smiling or speaking quietly.

Given the demanding nature of the role, our assessment centres need to replicate the experience of the contact centre role. By using exercises, similar to speed dating, it recreates a really similar atmosphere to a contact centre, which are noisy, busy environments. Naturally if an applicant looks out of place at the assessment centre, the role is not suitable for them.

The impact of using strengths-based recruitment is already having a profound effect within the business. Almost 93 per cent of our assessors said they felt the new recruits were more highly engaged during the training and picked it up quicker, whilst 100 per cent of its assessors agreed the strengths-based approach was more effective, saying they could differentiate between low, average and high performance easier; identify candidates who are a good fit for the contact centre role; and ensure the new hires would be an asset to the business.

As we move into our busiest time of year in the run up to Christmas, ensuring we have highly motivated, talented and enthusiastic employees is vital to guarantee our customers receive outstanding customer care, as well as looking more inwardly to ensure they all find their role enjoyable and are in a career they look to progress going forwards.


Domestic & General is the market-leading appliance care provider for household appliances and consumer electronics in the UK. The company takes the worry out of appliance breakdowns for over 16 million customers and carried out over two million repairs last year alone.

Guest Blog, Gail Partridge: Holding memorable conversations with your customers…

800 450 Jack Wynn

Delivering a first-class customer experience should be the number one priority for any brand – it really is that important. It affects perceptions and memories of a business, and encompasses everything a customer goes through with that company. The contact centre is an important part of this, often called into action when something with the customer experience has gone wrong. When this occurs, a customer issue should, of course, be resolved as effortlessly as possible, but the experience is improved if the conversation – whether over the telephone, via email, Live Chat or social media – is a memorable one.

This is arguably even truer over social media, where conversations can take place in public. In addition to addressing the issue at hand, the representative must be aware that others can see the conversation and can share it quickly if they so wish. So what’s the best way of delivering those memorable conversations?


While to an extent this depends on the technology a brand is using in its contact centre, I would say that context is hugely important for any customer interaction and quality of conversation. An employee should ideally know the customer’s name, what the issue is and whether there have been issues in the past. This saves a lot of leg work upfront and means the customer doesn’t have to repeat information they may have shared via another channel previously.

Body language

It isn’t just what you say that leads to a memorable conversation it’s how you say it. When speaking with a customer, employees must have the right mindset during the conversation – the key to really listen to the customer and to respond in a personal way to show they care and want to help

So the way you show up and even your body language and the way you sit can have an impact on the customer experience.  For example, if you were face to face with someone and slouching in your seat, would the customer think you are interested in what you have to say? Removing distractions and being fully present with every customer will give confidence and control which will all be reflected in the way you deal with the customer issue and your tone of voice will be one which shows that you really want to engage with the customer.

Be engaging

Although operational stats, e.g. average handling time, are important for monitoring efficiency and resourcing in a contact centre, this should not be down to an individual level as this pressure can stop the natural conversation and engaging with customers. To engage you have to be fully present and allow the natural flow of a curious conversation, where the customer is asked about not only what they problem is but also why it is important to them to have it fixed. Your people should draw out the other person, listen carefully to what they are saying and make the customer feel confident that their problem is in the right hands to be addressed. The more this can be done, the more positive experience the customer will have.

Taking genuine interest broader than the issue at hand can often prevent further issues occurring and the need to call back to have more problems resolved. If an employee can find some common ground in a natural, rather than scripted way, then that can only add to the engagement felt.

Signing-off in style

As the conversation draws to a close, it’s important to strike the right note as you finish – that will be the abiding memory. Some technology systems in a contact centre allow for a personalised follow-up – an email to enquire if everything was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction – others do not. But that shouldn’t stop an upbeat and positive end to the conversation.

Teach your staff how to do this

Providing smart and effective training to customer-facing people is a surprisingly overlooked element of customer interaction. This should include product or service information of course, and the ability to properly use whichever software and technologies are in play in that contact centre.

But it should also and always include tips and techniques on actually communicating with people. This can vary according to the channel – what works when speaking with someone might not be as effective via social media – but there are aspects that can be used whatever the channel.

As social media is a public forum, you should be clear about what an agent can and cannot say. This is especially so given that for most Millennials, social media is a way of life, and they use a tone in their personal accounts that would not necessarily be suited to a professional interaction.

Memorable and effortless conversations are a key part of delivering a good customer experience, something to bear in mind as the variety of communication channels broadens, from social media and beyond.


Gail Partridge is a consultant at PeopleTECH, a customer experience management consultancy that advises organisations on how to deliver the right customer experience via people, processes and technology. Gail has previously worked with brands such as Sky, Standard Life and British Airways, advising on all elements of call centre strategy.

Industry Spotlight: “It’s up to you how to handle social channels, but choose wisely”…

800 450 Jack Wynn

The term ‘call centre’ usually conjures up images of vast open office spaces, occupied by dozens of telesales representatives parked in front of computer screens with their omnipresent headsets.

Gone are the days where the primary source of communication is by telephone. In the digital age, many consumers decide to take to their desktop when they want to make a purchase or, more importantly, air a grievance.

In an ideal world, a customer that has a concern will reach out to your call centre via telephone. Customer care specialists can pull up details quickly, and can use the pauses to engage with the person on the other end of the phone. With this said, the concept of Live Chat allows the opportunity to address a complaint while the customer is online and available to participate in the process as well.

The internet is rife with opportunities to either sing the praises or throw some acid on a business. Social media pages, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Feefo, Google and Trustpilot are just some of the channels that allow the consumer to rate and leave feedback on virtually any business on the planet. Therefore, today’s customer support professionals need to be adept at handling complaints through various outlets.

There is a growing number of people who take to social media to vent about their experience with a brand. And everyone loves to read a good rant, right? What can end up happening is people start piggy-backing on the original comment, and before you know it there is a viral complaint about your company flying all over the internet. Left unattended, these can fester and do ongoing damage to your business.

So what’s a brand to do? Here are a few simple tips:

1)    Monitor your social media pages: Make sure you check for direct messages. The sooner you acknowledge someone’s issue, the easier it will be to make them a fan of your business again.

2)    Search for your brand: People may not bother searching for your official Facebook page or Twitter handle, and the only way you’ll find those harsh comments is searching for your brand name. Include searches for common misspellings. Then try to engage with those individuals, but get them off public pages and on to email or telephone.

3)    Check your ratings: Usually, a one-star rating on sites like Trustpilot can be remedied by apologising for the experience the customer had, and asking them to get in touch to try to find a satisfactory resolution to the issue. That is the result what people want.

4)    Keep your cool: The internet explodes with a story gone viral every few months. A customer who complained on social media received a defensive (and usually offensive) reply from the business. As much it might pain you, the customer is always right; bite your tongue and try to address the issue in a timely fashion.

How you manage your social media customer support can be a dream come true, or your worst nightmare. It’s up to you how to handle it, so choose wisely.


Words by Bernadette Kelly, of director business development at ActiveWin Media 


Bernadette is a native New Yorker, starting her career as a telesales representative. She has managed large call centre teams in California before relocating to Manchester in 2010. Recently, Bernadette was selected as a judge for VOOM2016 to help Richard Branson decide which start-up would win £1 million in prizes.